‘Honoured’ Tibet team manager looks back on ‘really great’ CONIFA World Football Cup as players make way home
Players finish 12th of 16 teams and record a first win at the grass roots version of Fifa’s global carnival
While the world’s focus is shifting to Russia where football’s finest are about to do battle for the World Cup, teams at the other end of the scale from Fifa’s festival are making their way home.
The South China Morning Post caught up with Tibet team manager Passang Dorjee in Delhi as the team travel back from London where they played in the CONIFA World Football Cup, an alternative tournament for teams not recognised by Fifa, which finished on Sunday with Ukraine-based Hungarian minority Karpatalya crowned the champions after a penalty win over Northern Cyprus.
On Wednesday, the Tibet team were going their separate ways to their homes across India and Nepal, Dorjee explained, after a “really great” tournament where they played six games in 10 days.
Other players had already left London for homes elsewhere in the UK, Canada and the US – none of the squad live in Tibet.
Dorjee is also director of the Tibetan National Sports Association, the Dharamsala-based body officially formed in 2002.
By then Tibetan football teams had played at an Italian rock festival in 1999 and in 2001 they played their first ever international match against Greenland in Copenhagen.
The team lost that day and results when they played bigger teams have been similar over the past 17 years. They are ranked 38th of the 38 members of CONIFA.
The WFC was no exception for a team that were only there because they had been given a wild-card entry by the organisers.
A farewell moment for the @tibetansports national football team with His Holiness the @DalaiLama in their preparations for the @CONIFAOfficial World Cup in London #Conifa #Tibet #WorldCup pic.twitter.com/mJw2v0Utia
— COPA (@COPAfootball) 23 May 2018
“Tibet was among a number of teams that applied for a wild card to compete at the 2018 Paddy Power World Football Cup,” CONIFA general secretary Sascha Duerkop said.
“These teams applied because they were either insufficiently active or did not have the qualification results to qualify for the tournament on a results basis alone. Tibet’s application was compelling and the executive committee granted the wild card on that basis.”
Dorjee said: “We are honoured and
there are many things to learn from this tournament to improve in future.” .
Tibet finished 12th of the 16 teams, losing their last game to United Koreans of Japan on penalties after playing out a 1-1 draw.
The side recorded a debut WFC win, although they did that without kicking a ball as their opponents in the placement game, Ellann Vannin, refused to play.
The Manx side pulled out of the tournament to protest a failed appeal about an ineligible player in an earlier game and Tibet were awarded a 3-0 win – although they lost to Turkish All-stars in the hastily arranged friendly to replace the game.
Dorjee had told us before the team travelled to London that they struggled with financing and have only one official sponsor, Amsterdam-based kit supplier Copa.
CONIFA had their own difficulties with only bookmakers Paddy Power sponsoring the tournament, with tournament director Paul Watson telling Sky Sports that other companies pulled out because of Tibet.
— CONIFA (@CONIFAOfficial) 5 June 2018
“On the money side, people are scared to sponsor an event like this because they’re afraid of offending China. The presence of Tibet caused four major sponsors to pull out.”
While a pre-tournament campaign on Generosity.com set up by Dorjee reached 10 per cent of its US$100,000 goal over a period of months, another UK-based effort on JustGiving.com made £3,681 (US$4,920), 77 per cent of its target, in just a week before handing it over to the Tibetan party in London on the eve of the tournament.
“The support for the Tibet team was more than expected,” Dorjee said of his experience in London.